Four moons of Uranus get even more interesting

Four moons of Uranus get even more interesting

A study revealed that, with the exception of Miranda, the large moons of Uranus could still harbor a residual ocean a few tens of kilometers thick. These models represent a baseline to guide future observations from the Uranus Orbiter and Probe (UOP) mission, which will likely visit the system in the 2030s. Details of this work are published in Journal of Geophysical Research.

Liquid water at the frozen frontier of the solar system?

Uranus, so far from Earth, hasn’t garnered much attention since the Voyager 2 probe passed by in the 1980s, however, a detailed look at this ice giant can tell us a lot about these objects that are very much in the galaxy. More and more planetary scientists are campaigning for a probe to be sent to the site, especially as an opportunity arises in 2032, with Uranus and Jupiter aligned. The idea is to rely on this configuration to make use of a file Gravity assist In order to get to the planet faster.

These researchers’ wish could soon come true. A recent report covering the next 10 years by the American Astrobiology and Planetary Sciences Society has actually deemed it a “priority” to send an orbiter to Uranus.

One of the goals of this mission is to name it informally Uranus probe and probe (UOP), aimed at studying evolution Five major moons of the planet: Miranda, Ariel, Umbriel, Titania and Oberon. And with good reason, recent studies have suggested the idea that the latter could harbor subterranean oceans. However, to date, few studies have focused on the internal evolution of these large moons of Uranus. To avoid “blindness,” the researchers built a model by combining results from the Cassini, Dawn, and New Horizons missions, focusing respectively on Enceladus, Ceres, and Charon, three moons that also likely harbor underground oceans.

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The researchers then took a fresh look at data returned nearly forty years ago by the Voyager 2 spacecraft and compared those results with those from the missions mentioned above.

A wide shot of Uranus was captured on February 6, 2023. Six of the planet’s 27 known moons are also visible. Source: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, J. DePasquale

remaining oceans

It appears from an analysis of all this data that Titania and Oberon, the two most distant from Uranus in this group of five moons, could still harbor oceans in fifty kilometers Despite its location in the icy regions of the solar system. Ariel and Umbriel may also have some buried around thirty kilometers. These bodies of water can be preserved thanks to their limited internal heat, as well as their large composition of ammonia, whose anti-freezing nature helps keep water in its liquid form even at extremely low temperatures.

The researchers also estimate that these moons could also have oceans around them 150 grams of salt per liter of water. For comparison, note that Salt Lake in Utah (USA), which is twice as salty, is still capable of supporting life. However, scientists have not yet determined the oceanic potential of Uranus’ fifth largest moon: Miranda. However, its small size indicates that its inner ocean likely froze only a few million years after its formation.

Note that all of the oceans we’re talking about here are just bodies of water left over. Early in their history, these five moons may have harbored large oceans ranging From 100 km to 150 km. However, this discovery is still very interesting. Proving the existence of these oceans in the bowels of Uranus’ moons would indeed increase the possibility that oceanic worlds are common in our solar system and perhaps, by extension, in other systems.

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